Tuesday, August 27, 2013

British Military action in Syria ?

If there was a United Nations mandate (not necessarily a Security Council vote in favour, A large majority General Assembly vote would morally be enough).

If there was a proper, co-ordinated international action involving many nations including all our NATO partners.

If there was a well thought through military strategy with clear objectives, a clear understanding of who among the rag tag and bobtail rebels we are supporting.

If there was a proper political strategy evaluating the options for a post Assad Syria.

If there was a clear timetable and a precise exit strategy.

If there was absolute confidence that there would be no collateral damage with British fire not killing innocent people.

If there was overwhelming support in our country for the notion that it is in Britain's interest to be involved.

Then...... Maybe. 

Thursday, August 22, 2013

The deerstalker Prime Minister

Sir Alec Douglas-Home, as he then wasn't, was called from the grouse moors to be Prime Minister by his fellow toff Harold MacMillan. Supermac also shot things as a pastime I recall. In those days, and of course earlier, our leaders had quite a penchant for killing innocent creatures - it's what the gentry did. Since then our Prime Ministers have declared open season on Argentinians, Iraqis and Afghanistanis but not on British wildlife. Until now , that is, for it seems that the present incumbent is a deer stalker. You don't just stalk the poor creature when you do this , of course, you shoot it between the eyes. It seems an odd way to get your kicks. I prefer my deer gambolling about rather than being splayed on the ground as a carcass. And the idea that bringing sudden death to a creature that you with your superior intellect and team of servants have pursued through the undergrowth for an hour or so is pretty unpleasant. But it's not against the law and unless we make it so Mr Cameron is quite within his rights to spend some holiday time with the blood of the deer on his hands.

So Dave, the law says, can kill if he wants to. Should we just shrug our shoulders and leave it at that ? I don't think so. As Prime Minister Mr Cameron should try and relate to ordinary people (the rest of us) but he isn't very good at it. Indeed I would say he has the least "common touch" of any post war Prime Minister. MacMillan, Eden and their generation were changed by their experiences in the Great War. As front line officers they were close to the British Tommy and understood and respected him. There was nothing patronising about this. Nor was it Noblesse Oblige. Command men in battle and you learn about them. It is not Cameron's fault that he grew up in a privileged world and that in peace time there was nothing that forced him to relate to how the other half live. But you can charge that at no point has he had to have any meaningful contact with the working man. He is privileged, upper class, Oxfordshire man and it is in these circles he is comfortable. The elite by wealth, education and lifestyle - including the stalking of deer!

Cameron failed to win the 2010 election in part because people saw him as the elitist he is. Nothing he has done since becoming Prime Minister has shown that he has any feeling for people as PEOPLE rather than just as voters. His attempts at populism are laughable - he is not a snob, I see no sign of that, he just so obviously doesn't understand us. His appointments from Andy Coulson to Lynton Crosby have shown his appalling judgments about people. The continued stalking of deer whilst he is Prime Minister is another example of terrible judgment. It provides a symbolism of remoteness, elitism and of a man who lives in a world far removed from that of 99% of British citizens. In that he is even worse than the Prince of Wales (with whom he seems pally). And that takes some doing !

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Sure – don't trust the Oil and Gas Industry… but do find out the facts!

A few years ago I went to County Mayo in Ireland to study and report upon the Corrib Gas project. The report I wrote detailed the culpable mismanagement of the project by the Oil companies involved – primarily my old employer Shell – and by successive Irish governments. It did not criticise the project itself nor, except in a few small particulars, did I support the protestors' view that the project was potentially damaging to the environment of the area or to the rights of the local community to enjoy a life unchanged by the fact of having a major hydrocarbon project on their doorstep. My criticisms were mostly directed at the oil industry (and Government) failure properly to engage with the residents of the area from the start.  2718577o

Failed community engagement is a charge that can be laid at the door of the Oil/Gas industry in Ireland but we should be wary of trusting the industry unequivocally for other reasons as well. In Nigeria Shell has still frankly not got its act together and the stories of community victims and health, safety and security dysfunctionality are well known.  And the scandal of BP’s disastrous Deepwater Horizon project should make us wary of believing anything a multinational oil company ever says!

So how should we regard the plans for the exploitation of Britain’s Shale Gas reserves and in particular the project at Balcombe which has led to such strong protests? This is what the company, Cuadrilla, says they are doing:

“Cuadrilla plans to drill and take samples of the underground rock in a vertical well drilled to approximately 3,000 feet. A possible horizontal leg of 2,500 feet may also be drilled from the vertical well, dependent on the results of sampling in the vertical. Neither the vertical nor the horizontal well will be hydraulically fractured.”

So there is no production and certainly no fracking at Balcombe. The process underway is common practice in virtually all oil/gas exploration sites around the world b(including dozens in the UK). It is part of the information and data gathering that takes place before any commitment to operational drilling takes place. Cuadrilla has permission to do what they are planning to do – it would be absurd if they did not. It poses no threat to anybody. Cuadrilla does not have permission (nor have they asked for it) to move beyond the exploratory well phase. If there is an economic case to do this then the company will have to satisfy the regulators and the planners that it is the right thing to do. Such a possibility is years away.

So the protestors, at least those who have bothered to inform themselves about the project, are being disingenuous – and those who haven't bothered are being ignorant. A dangerous combination!   What they are doing is using the fact that a company is drilling a test well in a location that may just be commercially viable for Gas production as an opportunity to protest about Shale Gas in general and fracking in particular. In a democracy that is their right so long as they stay within the law of course but what is underway, with its “Celeb” protestors and its violence and abuse adds rather more heat than light!

For me, and I am hardly a spokesman for “Big Oil” (!) , what is wearisome is that as in County Mayo and elsewhere the Shale Gas debate is being utterly polarised. I believe that there will be Shale Gas projects that are utterly uncontroversial in every way (there are already dozens of them) and projects which should not be allowed to go ahead for environmental, community, safety or other reasons. In other words the Orwellian “All Shale is Bad” or “All Fracking is bad” is nonsense – as is its opposite. I am also prepared to accept what (for example) Shell says about Shale Gas and fracking: 

“A recent study conducted by the Royal Society and Royal Academy of Engineering on behalf of the UK government concluded that fracking is safe “as long as operational best practices are implemented and robustly enforced through regulation”.

Other research, such as the European Parliament report on the environmental impacts of shale gas and shale oil extraction activities and a study conducted by the Royal Society and Royal Academy of Engineering on behalf of the UK government, support these findings.

The technology has been developed and refined over 60 years, and is today used in drilling thousands of wells each year.”

When I say “accept” I do not mean “believe”. I do not think that Shell would say this if they did not sincerely believe it to be true. The key point is in the first paragraph. “Best practice” and “regulation” – as the Royal Society puts it. So my position and what I would recommend to others is to campaign vigorously not against Shale Gas and Fracking but for its regulation. The Prime Minister has said

“The regulatory system in this country is one of the most stringent in the world. If any shale gas well were to pose a risk of pollution then we have all the powers we need to close it down.”

This statement should be challenged and the media, the environmental movement and Parliament itself needs to make sure that what Cameron says actually happens. Indeed the campaign should not be to ensure that we  “close down” such wells but to make sure that they are never approved at the planning stage. That would be better use of all of our time than the rent-a-crowd protests in Balcombe.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

A full veil, covering the face, is an abomination and it should bebanned

I believe that all of us have the right to dress as we choose - within the boundaries of decency and commonsense. So if women for whatever reason want to dress all in black from head to toe, like Queen Victoria once did, that's fine by me. HOWEVER the issue of the veil, the full covering of the face, is not about dress. The covering of the face is a negation of individuality and it removes that person’s distinctness and personality. I lived in the Middle East for many years and I saw many women who covered their hair and wore traditional Islamic dress but who never covered their faces. I never had a problem with this. The face is the person – it is the principal source of identity and it is with the face that we communicate. This is my position on the subject:

"The only bit of Islamic dress that should be banned is the veil over the face. Covering the hair and having a loose fitting black garment over the body is in no way objectionable. There is confusion over terminology here so it is best to keep it simple. The face is the visible manifestation of our personality and our character. Cover it and we become anonymous human ciphers. If some nation states want to insist that their mature women wear veils in public I deeply regret it – but it is their call. In Britain it is our call and it should be disallowed. There is also, of course, the security point. The one thing that distinguishes us from one another is our face and that is the one part of our anatomy that identifies us. If it is right to monitor us with security cameras – I think that it is – then these cameras have to be able to identify us which means that they must record our faces."

Covering the face is an abomination and the French were 100% right to ban this practice – and we should follow suit.

Saturday, August 03, 2013

Fury on the Left about the Immigration Vans will have made LyntonCrosby's day!

Oh dear we Lefties have fallen for it! The Immigration vans are not about using an advertising medium well or badly. They are about getting secondary and tertiary media coverage. The vans would have largely have been unnoticed - their impact confined to a very narrow area and miniscule percentage of the population. Except that the opponents of the message got in a lather and a media explosion ensued. Which is, of course, exactly what Lynton and the boys wanted! 

For every pound of media expenditure on the Vans themselves the Tories have multiplied that one hundred fold with the unpaid for secondary coverage. Like this article! This is dog whistle politics pure and simple. It's not even particularly subliminal - are you thinking what we are thinking ? Without earnest and no doubt sincere fury from the Left the vans would have gone unnoticed. As it is we now know that (here's the message) the Tories will go for the illegals and Labour will defend them. And that's worth a couple of percentage points to the Conservatives in the polls!